paul nicholson

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Product Review: Rescue Bots Beam Box

In Reviews, Uncategorized on October 29, 2013 at 5:30 am

Long ago I used to post reviews with some frequency. Mostly movies, but occasionally other media or products as well. That is now making a comeback thanks to my signing up for BzzAgent. It’s a really great setup: Free signup. They send me free stuff. I review it. Does it really get better?

The first of these new reviews will be for the Rescue Bots Beam Box, a “my first console” of sorts for small kids. I received it free from BzzAgent.91J5yW4UY+L._SL1500_

It is worth saying up front that my 2 & 4 year old’s aren’t into Transformers or Rescue Bots, and in general are pretty hesitant to jump into violent or ‘scary’ shows (personal issues and parenting set aside). They don’t like stuff with ‘bad guys’ and I’m not in a hurry to force it on them. They do love video games though. I was hoping that Rescue Bots would fit the bill as a non-violent, no ‘bad guys’ introduction to more ‘action’ oriented games than the puzzle and sports games they’ve been playing.

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Android Apps

In Cool Tech, Me, Reviews on November 2, 2009 at 9:09 am

(Caveat: This is an old post! Not necessarily what I’m using today)

With the arrival of high-profile Android phones on so many new devices this holiday season, many of my friends are finally jumping on the Android bandwagon. First off: Welcome!

Second, many of you keep asking me (as someone who’s been using Android for almost a year already with my 1st gen G1) what apps you should install.

So, here is a list of the apps I currently use, in no particular order. I’ll try to update the list occasionally, but no promises. If you want my latest recommendations, hit me up on Twitter. Also, keep in mind I’m using a 1st-gen G1 with Android 1.6. Those of you lucky enough to be using a phone with 2.0 or 2.1 will have a different experience. Some of these apps will not be necessary since the OS has features built-in, while others may not run if the creators haven’t ported it up to 2.x

APPS

  • Advanced Task Manager – One of the few pay apps I run and worth every penny. Allows you to manage which apps are allowed to run and which ones aren’t, etc. One of Android’s biggest features is also one of its drawbacks: multitasking. Much like WinMo devices, it can run multiple apps at once but many of those apps don’t “quit” when you leave them. They simply go to the background. This costs you battery life and CPU cycles. Sometimes that’s a good thing, other times not so much. This app lets you kill apps that need killing and even lets you schedule regular termination to squash some pesky apps that auto-start periodically in the background. I got an immediate boost in battery life and performance with this relatively inexpensive app.

(continued after the break) Read the rest of this entry »

Pixar’s 3D Headache

In Cool Tech, Entertainment, Me, Movies, Reviews on October 16, 2009 at 11:27 am

To say this wouldn’t fit in 140 characters is an understatement. Sorry for the long-winded post. Just takes some explaining…

I just got through seeing the Toy Story 1 and 2 in 3D double feature. Those that know me, already know that i’m a huge Pixar fan, so i won’t go into a long review of the movies. They are amazing, life changing events and you should see them (though amazingly, i think i was in the theater tonight with several people that had never seen either movie). This is more a review of the 3D-i-zation of the movies.

Interestingly i was both very pleased and disappointed. In that chronological order. I also made a discovery that i had often wondered about but never gotten the chance to test. It explains why i have always gotten a bit of a headache when i’ve watched just about any 3D movie.

First a little background: “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2″ were, of course, not originally created for 3D presentation. They were originally created using 3D computer animation (“Toy Story” of course being famous as the first feature length all CG film), but rendered to flat 2D images for traditional exhibition. The great thing about this process is that, of course, Pixar still has the original files they used to create these movies so it was a relatively easy process to re-render the movies in 3D (after making lots of minor tweaks to lighting, etc). This means old movies in 3D, but in true 3D – not kinda hacked apart and “spatialized” like we’ve been hearing George Lucas threaten to do with Star Wars.

(continued after the break) Read the rest of this entry »

Summer movie update

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on July 23, 2008 at 10:49 am

Way back on Valentines Day i listed all the summer blockbuster movies i was amped about seeing. Now that we’re most of the way through the movie season, i thought i’d give a bit of a recap/update with mini reviews since i didn’t make posts after seeing most of them. Don’t worry, i’ll warn and censor any possible spoilers.

First, i’d like to point out that unlike the summer before, this summer wasn’t all sequels and remakes. There were several, but they were not nearly as dominant as last year. I’m not saying every movie was terribly original, but it was nice to be treated to more of the unexpected, and get introduced to new characters for a change.

Feb 14th – Jumper

Didn’t see it. Heard it sucked. Will probably grab it on Netflix eventually.

April 18 – The Forbidden Kingdom

Didn’t see it, though i heard it was decent. Still want to see, but is on my Netflix queue now.

May 2 – Iron Man

Great movie. Started the summer off right. Just the right balance of substance and just having a ton of fun. Special effects were awesome, acting was solid, script was tight. Not fine art cinema – no Oscars here – but really good movie that should be very rewatchable.

May 9 – Speed Racer

This one was ok. I was fairly disappointing that there was much more language and violence in this than i think should have been allowed as a PG movie. Having said that, if it had been rated PG-13 i would have enjoyed it more. I also think the acid-trip visuals worked for me after a while. It was much more of an art film in that regard than i expected – almost to the point of being avant-garde or experimental really. Once i got used to that, i think it was a good film. Middle of the road, but good.

May 16 – Chronicles of Narnia: Price Caspian

Excellent, but like Speed Racer this one should have been PG-13. It was pretty much in line with the first Lord of the Rings movie, but without blood. Literally. Same number of bodies falling. Same number of swords stabbing, etc…just no blood squirting when it happens. But like i said, very good. True to the book (almost too much – those who haven’t read it might be confused) and well acted and written. I hope they keep moving through the books – at least make it a trilogy. These Narnia movies could have been drivel, but so far so good.

May 22 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I went in with mid-level expectations and didn’t bury myself in spoiler-filled coverage before it came out and i think it paid off. I really liked this one. I think what i liked best was that it assumed that Indy kept doing things for the last 20 years. [SPOILER ALERT - HIGHLIGHT TEXT TO READ IT] It referenced Young Indiana Jones Chronicles events, assumed that Indy was in the service during WWII (which of course he would be), etc. He wasn’t just old, he had a life. The only gripe i had on this one was the scene with Mutt swinging from the vines with monkeys…and the truck/cliff/tree moment that was straight out of a Wiley Coyote cartoon. Otherwise the suspension of disbelief was within what i was willing to deal with, and loads of fun. I also think this one worked better because it tapped into a mythos that i was familiar with. Indy 1 and 3 were great because i grew up hearing about what they were after. Temple of Doom didn’t reach me as well because i didn’t care about the MacGuffin. In this one, it worked because i’ve heard about Rosewell aliens for years and mysterious temples in South America, so i was ready to see those fantasies played out on screen. [END SPOILERS] Wish i could see this one again, but i guess i’ll have to wait for the blu-ray for a second go-round.

June 20 – Get Smart

Didn’t see it. Might get around to this one eventually, but the closer it got and the more i saw about it, the more it looked like it wasn’t my kinda movie.

June 27 – WALL-E

Great movie. I can see where most people are coming from with the reviews that the first act was great, but the later parts of the movie dropped off. While yes, the first part was fun and light and enjoyable, a whole 2-hour feature of that would have gotten boring after a while. I enjoyed this one thoroughly, though it still ranks behind A Bug’s Life, Cars, and Finding Nemo for me in the Pixar pantheon. [MINOR SPOILER ALERT - highlight text to read] I also didn’t take issue at all with the concerns some had with the message of the movie. Firstly i don’t think it was that much of a message movie. On first viewing i definitely got a message, but on further examination, really this was a love story set on the backdrop of a humorously exaggerated extreme future. [ END SPOILERS]

July 2 – Hancock

Awesome. I really think people that didn’t like this movie went in with too many expectations. This wasn’t Pursuit of Happiness or Independence Day, but a wonderful balance between the two. [MINOR SPOILER ALERT - Highlight text to read] I also love that though this movie had a major ‘twist’ (which was by some miracle not spoiled in the trailers), the movie wasn’t about the twist. It had a twist, then moved on to what the movie was really about. Kudos to the writers and i think they also thankfully avoided dealing the the alcoholic/tortured super-hero issue too much, which leaves room for those stories in Ironman sequels [SPOILER END]. Highly recommended.

July 11 – Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Haven’t seen yet, but still hope to see before it leaves theaters. If i have to wait for blu-ray though, i can.

July 18 – The Dark Knight
Great movie but… It was a little too dark and a little too long for me. Good movie, but it needed to be tightened up. Many subplots that could have been cut (one in particular) and well…gonna have to go into spoiler mode: [SPOILER ALERT - Highlight text to read] All of the acting was spectacular, and the overall direction was good, but the script needed work. The entire Hong Kong sequence should have been cut, and overall it just needed a few nips and tucks. My only other major gripe was Two-Face. One that he didn’t get enough time, and two that he looked ridiculous. He looked like Imhotep from The Mummy. He just had gas on his face which caught on fire. Batman was right there and put the fire out. Unless Batman put it out with a brick, Dent’s jaw shouldn’t have been broken and his face should have been burned, not missing! Then even at that…if his face was missing…he wouldn’t be walking around and talking the same. His voice would sound different, etc. Normally i wouldn’t nit-pick something like this, but Christopher Nolan has gone out of his way to make a very realistic world here. We can believe that what we are watching could actually happen – but not Two-Face. Overall though, the Joker was great, the increased role of Lt/Commissioner Gordon was great, and it was a very good movie. Just not as good as it could have been (read: over-hyped and not as good as the amazing movie it followed) [END SPOILERS]

NOT OUT YET:
Aug 1 – The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Nov 21 – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Might checking out (or wait for video):

March 14 – Horton Hears a Who!

Saw the last 15 minutes of the movie at a showing in the park. Looked cute. Might get around to seeing more eventually.

June 6 – Kung Fu Panda

Haven’t seen, but plan on it. A friend of mine said he liked it more than Ironman at the time, which says a lot.

June 13 – The Incredible Hulk

Didn’t see. Not planning on it anytime soon. Just looked poor. Never been a big Hulk fan anyway.

June 13 – The Happening

Didn’t see, but looked like it would be good. Still plan on catching on Netflix.

July 11 – Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D

Haven’t seen yet, but would like to. Plan on seeing it before it leaves theaters just so i can see the 3D experience.

Summer Movie goodness (and the new Indiana Jones Trailer)

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews, Videos on February 14, 2008 at 8:16 am

Ok, first things first: If you haven’t seen the new trailer for the fourth Indiana Jones movie, watch it now. Here. Immediately.

(if the embed isn’t working – try here)

Ok, now that we have that out of the way…

My thoughts: I don’t like that they open with a re-hashing of the original movies. For those of us who have seen the first movies, i think we know who Indiana Jones is. If they had just shown the clip of the fedora on the ground and the silhouette…that would have been more than enough and a great intro. For those that haven’t seen the previous movies (all two of you) you just had them all spoiled for you.

Anyway…once the trailer gets going, it looks good. It looks like they’ll use a bit of a comedy (i just hope not too much) to address the fact that he’s old.

One thing that i am very disappointed by though: from numerous shots in the trailer, Spielberg and Lucas have obviously recanted their promise to keep computer generated effects to a minimum. I know this is a very short trailer, and those shots could be the extent of the CG in the whole movie – that would certainly be minimal – but i don’t have my hopes up. I guess i’d rather be disappointed now than while watching the movie though.

I am definitely pumped about the movie though. The trailer had a good feel and in terms of cinematography, it looked very similar to Last Crusade. Good stuff.

In other movie news…
It is time for an updated list of movies i’m interested in seeing:

Planning on seeing:
Feb 14th – Jumper (scratch…heard it sucked)
April 18 – The Forbidden Kingdom
May 2 – Iron Man
May 9 – Speed Racer
May 16 – Chronicles of Narnia: Price Caspian
May 22 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
June 20 – Get Smart
June 27 – WALL-E
July 2 – Hancock
July 11 – Hellboy II: The Golden Army
July 18 – The Dark Knight
Aug 1 – The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Nov 21 – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Dec 25 May 8, 2009 – Star Trek XI – just got bumped :-(

Might checking out (or wait for video):
March 14 – Horton Hears a Who!
June 6 – Kung Fu Panda
June 13 – The Incredible Hulk
June 13 – The Happening
July 11 – Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D
Oct 3 – Valkyrie
Dec 10 – X-Files 2

So…looks like i’ll be dropping somewhere in the area of $300 in movie tickets this year. Could be worse i guess. Maybe i’ll hit some matinées.

my alley cat review

In East Nashville, Entertainment, Reviews on November 30, 2007 at 10:51 pm

Nashville Restaurants just got through posting a review of Alley Cat over here in East Nashville. I could not keep silent. My review (rebuttal) follows:

The food is very good, though a little confused at times (i’ll get to that in a second). Most of all, i have to argue this place as “tex-mex” or a “grill”. It is neither. It is more a fancy french-style restaurant’s take on foods that share names in common with tex-mex foods. While excellent, very little on their menu is really tex-mex. The fajitas in particular are very mixed up. They are, strickly speaking, accurate insofar as they are beef with veggies served with tortillas. However, the beef is not marinated skirt or even flank steak, but brisket. Some of the best smoked brisket i’ve had outsite of central Texas mind you, but brisket none the less. Completely wrong for fajitas, and ruined as great brisket by the veggies. It turns out to be an interesting meal worth eating, but not what i’m looking for when i order fajitas.

Their greatest failure remains the value however. This is why they fit into the fancy french restaurant category as far as i’m concerned (though fail there as the atmosphere and service is inconsistent with the size of the inevitable bill). The portions are small, and – worst of all – they charge for chips and salsa. Now, this is some of the best salsa i’ve ever had in my life – and i’m a frequent tex-mex eater that grew up in San Antonio. This salsa is amazing. It also costs about $5 to order. Unforgivable. If they sold it by the 20oz bottle on the way out the door i might pay $20 for the stuff, but when i sit down at the table and place an order for $40-$50 worth of “tex-mex” for 2 people, i darn well expect to get chips and salsa gratis.

To give you an example of how much in the fancy-smanshy category this place is: on my first visit there i ordered the scallops. I forget exactly what they called them, but they were essentially seared scallops with a cilatro-based sauce. Excellent…all 4 of them. They were big scallops, but it took me precisely 8 bites and i had finished my meal, while my wife was just starting into her dinner.

[added, not in original comment]
However, it is not a nice restaurant. The service has always been very very slow (we’ve been 3 times) and the atmosphere inside borders on a dive bar. Outside on the patio (where we always sit) is nicer, but extremely casual. Like we’re sitting on someone’s back porch. A nice back porch if it was a neighbors, but not a nice restaurant.
[/finish add]

If this place was nicer (like, say a Trace or Eastland Cafe vibe) and quit pretending like they were a tex-mex grill, then i’d be all for it. As it is, i just can’t justify it or tolerate it. Even for that oh-so-wonderful salsa.

hulu review

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews, Videos on November 21, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Last night I was finally granted access to the semi-public beta of the new online video-on-demand service, Hulu. There have been many other reviews of this service already, but I just wanted to throw my two cents in, since I think that’s one of the reasons I was granted the beta.

For those not familiar with Hulu, it is a joint venture between Universal (NBC) and News Corp (FOX), so a large number of shows that belong to those networks is available, and a few full length movies to boot. There is even speculation that Warner Brothers TV will be adding it’s shows to the fold (maybe i can finally catch up on Smallville). It works pretty much the same as ABC’s and NBC’s websites when it comes to streaming existing shows. They are occasionally interrupted by commercials, and the quality of the image depends on your internet speed.

First: Huge advantage to Hulu over other similar sites: it works in Firefox! I’m not sure, but I would assume it also works for Apple users. This is huge for me personally, and I think gives it a big leg up. Being browser agnostic means just that many fewer people that have a frustrating experience with streaming media sites that can be finicky at times.

The other awesome thing about Hulu you have to notice right away is the HUGE and I mean MASSIVE amount of content it has compared to other sites. My hope is that this is just the tip of the beta ice berg. They already have not only many full episodes from current running shows on NBC and FOX, but also a huge catalog of older shows. Simon and Simon? I forgot that show even existed. Remington Steele. Classic. Mary Tyler Moore, The A-Team, Airwolf, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, …on and on and on. It isn’t every episode by a long shot, but some of the shows go back pretty far.

And it’s not just TV shows – there are a few full-length movies on here too. Master and Commander among others right now. Curiously, the TV shows are in wide-screen high-def were applicable, but the movies are 4:3 pan-and-scan and edited for content – clearly the ‘old’ TV versions, which I find curious.

No doubt though, with this amount of content available, Christy and I are thinking about cancelling Netflix and going straight to the local library and Hulu for our entertainment for a while.

The ads were also pretty tolerable. Not the same ones over and over and over again the way some of the other VOD services can be, and the always-up ad banners aren’t an issue as long as you make the video full-screen, which is simple enough. I really don’t know why anyone would watch anything on here and not have it full-screen. Quality was also very good. We watched a few episodes on our projector and everything looked great. At least as good as SD cable if not better.

If you want to sign up for the beta yourself, you can at www.hulu.com, but I think it will be open for everyone by the time you get access to it at this point (it took them 3 weeks to process my beta application). When I get back home, I’ll put a full listing of the shows currently available up here for reference (Hulu, like most streaming media sites, is blocked at work for me).

Rock Band: First Impressions

In Entertainment, Games, Music, Reviews on November 1, 2007 at 7:45 pm

Update: this review wasn’t based on the final version of the game, as it has only today (11/5) “gone gold“. So the vocal issues may have been addressed in the retail version. Unfortunately i think it’s a little too late to do anything about the guitar controller. We’ll see.



Just got back from hanging out with my wife and sister, doing some shopping. Once we wrapped up finding what my sister needed, i forced them to follow me to Best Buy to try out Rock Band. I had heard on Engadget that many Best Buys had the demos, so wanted to see if ours did. It did!

So…how was it?
Not so fabulous.

First, the good:
The graphics looked great, and the parts were well written. The game also sounded good (as good as it could sound at an in-store demo). The song selection we rocked in store included “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”, “Say It Ain’t So”, and “Main Offender”. The demo also had “Suffragette City”, “Tom Sawyer”, and a few other tracks we didn’t get to.

As a drummer, i was very skeptical that the drums would “feel” like drums, but i will say, it was remarkable how fast it felt like i was back home drumming. It was actually pretty funny, on the ‘Beginner’ settings, i found the drums very difficult, mostly because it over-simplified the more complicated rhythms (triplets, etc) to songs i knew well. I kept trying to play the “real” rhythm and getting being marked wrong. Once i upped the difficulty though, it was a lot of fun. But since i was already playing on ‘Hard’ on the demo in the store without breaking a sweat, i don’t think drummers should look for a challenge in this game. The drum controller also felt like it could really take a beating (a good thing for a drum simulator). I will note: the in-store demo didn’t have the foot pedal controller (though i was playing the kick part on the floor anyway to keep myself honest, and i really found that easier anyway), so no promises there, it could be flimsy.

Now, the bad:
The new guitar controller, which i was excited to play (with its extra 5-frets keys), was a major disappointment. It felt flimsy, and worst of all, proved to be so. The strumming switch (is that what it’s called) was already toast. It wasn’t registering strums unles you really mashed down on it hard. The whole guitar just felt lighter and flimsier than the Guitar Hero 2 controller i have at home – which is strange since i think it is also a little bigger. It was so bad, we actually couldn’t play with the guitar. We kept failing every song, even though we had it on easy. It would only register about 1 in 3 notes. Bad bad sign, since this in-store demo has only been there for about 48 hours, and the Guitar Hero 2 demo that has been at the same Best Buy for months was still up and rockin’ perfectly.

Equally disappointingly was the vocal gameplay. My sister and wife are both singers – and i don’t just mean they lead Christmas carols with the family. They both majored in music with their vocal chords as their ‘instrument’. We’ve played SingStar (a console karaoke game) too, and did very well (even i did). But over and over again, the vocal track failed out on both of them, even on ‘Easy’. Now, there are a lot of people out there who are going to be horrible singers, but will want to play this game and have fun with their friends. On ‘Easy’, it should require absolute silence to fail out of the vocal track as far as i’m concerned. Maybe it was a problem with the mic, but if so, that again doesn’t bode well. Same problem as the guitar – this Best Buy’s SingStar demo has been running just fine for months. If this mic was dead after just 48 hours, that really doesn’t bode well.

So…do i want this game? Would i recommend it?
Meh.

I have to honestly say, not so much anymore. I’d love to play some of those songs on Guitar Hero, and playing drums was fun… but for $170+ this game was very, very disappointing over all. Fabulous concept, obviously. I just think there will be a lot of frustrated vocalists and down right furious guitarist in January as their controllers start dying. I’m actually going to remove it from my wish list until i have assurance that the game doesn’t fall apart inside of a few months.

(I am kicking myself right now that i didn’t take any pictures with my phone to make this a really good review. But if you want to see what the game looks like, check here)

TF2 Review

In Cool Tech, Entertainment, Games, Pictures, Reviews on September 30, 2007 at 1:26 pm

I keep meaning to make a post about Team Fortress 2. Unfortunately, ever since it was released made available for beta testing to people who pre-ordered the Orange Box, i haven’t stopped playing it long enough to make a post about it. I haven’t been playing it a scary amount, but given the choice of using my spare time to blog about TF2 or actually play TF2… the blog kept getting put off.

Sufficed to say this game is immensely fun. And i don’t mean it is well done and engrossing and realistic…i mean it is FUN. Goofy, laugh-out-loud fun. Don’t get me wrong, it is also engrossing and immersive and all of those good things that games should be. But most importantly it is the one thing that so many games aren’t these days – a real pleasure to play. This game isn’t about realism. It is about chaos, ridiculous situations, rocket-jumping, bunny hopping, and all those other things that made old-school deathmatch gaming so fun – but with great team dynamic and balanced gameplay like i’ve never seen outside of Day of Defeat. Over and over again while playing this game, i find my self laughing outloud – usually when i’ve just been blown away. That tends to happen when the ‘death cam’ shows you the person that just killed you looking like the screenshot on the right. Any player can instantly put their character into a ‘taunt’ at any time. It’s great fun to hit that button right after you kill someone so you know they are being forced to watch you dance. There are also many times when the game will also helpfully identify the parts of you that are laying at your enemy’s feet (see image at the left). These shots also show off another cool aspect of getting killed – the game always gives you updates on what you’ve done well. The game is a statistician’s dream and tracks the amount of damage you do, kills you get, kill assist you get, healing you perform, captures made, buildings made, buildings destroyed, etc, etc. After you are killed it told you what was particularly good about that last round, for you. You may be like me and stink at the game, but hey, you got closer to your record for damage in a round as a soldier that time than you’ve been in a while. Playing this game and being killed manages to be a constantly rewarding and reaffirming experience, without being condescending.

One of the other things that is really nice is the concept of the kill assist. The most obvious version of this is when a Medic is healing a Heavy or some other player and that player kills someone. The Medic clearly made it possible, so they get partial credit for the kill and receive points. The other, really nice kill-assist is when you’ve done a large portion of damage to an opposing player and one of your teammates comes along to help and finishes them off. Well, you may have done 250 points in damage to that Heavy (who has 300 hit points) but in most games your teammate that did the final 50 points damage would have gotten sole credit for the kill. In TF2, you both get credit. Your name gets flashed along with your teammate’s.

Another fun/competitive element thrown into the game is the concept of a “nemesis”. If someone kills you 5 times without you killing them, they are said to be “dominating” you and they are now your “nemesis”. They will now have a special icon above their head (only for you) and you’ll get double points if you can manage to kill them (a “revenge kill”). I’ve had the pleasure of being on the giving and receiving end of these multiple times and it just adds another layer of fun to the game.

My one request/complaint is that they took away the nifty muzzle flash effects we saw in the trailers. This whole game as a very cartoonist, straight-outta-Pixar look to it (but is surprisingly easy on the system requirements). In all the trailers – right up to a few weeks ago – all the muzzle flashes were very cartoonist as well. However, in the ‘beta’ version we’ve all been playing, they decided to covert the muzzle flashes to use the same nifty particle effects technique they developed for the Pyro’s flame thrower.

Original muzzle flash effect

New muzzle flash effect.

There are dozens of other awesome things i’d love to say about this game. It has a great commentary track from the makers of the game, cool intro videos you can watch to help you understand the basics of each map before loading them, a really nice achievement system…and don’t get me started on the intricacies of playing the engineer. But…i’m gonna go play more now.

If you want to track my personal game stats, you can always see them here.

nhl 06-7-8

In Entertainment, Games, Hockey, Reviews, Sports on August 10, 2007 at 10:13 pm

A quick post combining two of my favorite pastimes. Hockey and video games.

I first bought NHL 06 for my PC as i really started getting in to hockey. I think i played it at someone elses’ house or something and decided to play it more. For the record: i advise this for anyone who wants to get in to hockey – playing the video game version is a great way to learn the basics of the game (penalties, etc) – though you will never advance beyond the very basics of course.

That was the real rub. NHL 06 was fun to play, but EA obviously put out a very half-hearted effort compared to NBA or Madden. But hey, i’m in sales and marketing. It’s money. I get it.

When it was time for NHL 07 to come out, i was pumped. They were promising this new ‘skill stick’ change and amazing new graphics. I saw the trailers and was very impressed. So i went out and bought a copy soon after it was released. I was horribly disappointed. Not only did i not have the skill stick on the PC version, but i also didn’t have the improved graphics. Essentially the PC version was simply a port of the PS2 and Xbox versions – not the “next gen” PS3 and Xbox 360 versions that all the trailers had been for. The only difference i could tell between NHL 06 and NHL 07 was that the goalies sometimes played butterfly style now instead of always stacking their pads. Yeah, that was worth $40.

Now i see trailers for NHL 08.

First, amazing graphics. To be expected, but worth noting. These looks awesome. The crowd still looks horrible, but the players look and move better than ever. Second, they really tweaked the custom/create mode. You could create customer players before, but you had one default head to choose from, with very very limited customization. Very poor by most game standards today (especially on PC – i should be able to import skins dang it!). The new NHL 08 looks like it will be much better in that department. It also adds the ability to create your own team, including selecting from a preset choice of logos (PC import option please?) and a full color pallet to chose from. This video highlights these changes…and then showcases video of the team pictured on the right. Any copies of this game they may have sold, just disappeared. Why. On Earth. Would anyone make a team look like that? It would hurt your eyes to play a whole game like that.

Anyway…

Most importantly, they are also touting improved collision/hitting physics and adaptive AI. These address the two biggest weaknesses in the game. The collision physics used to be determined entirly by two factors: balance and speed. So a player who’s balance and agility stats were high, was hard to knock down. One who’s stats were low, was blown over by a passing butterfly. Worse – small, fast players (like Steve Sullivan for the Predators) routinely lead the team in hits, and can deck anyone on the ice simply because they move so fast. It is all about speed. The new version is supposed to take mass/weight/momentum into account. Yay.

They have also supposedly fixed or at least improved the AI. The AI used to be horrible. I can run the same play over and over again and score about 7 out of 10 times. I regularly run up stats and get 4 or 5 players hat tricks per game when i play NHL 07 on easy. On hard it just makes the opposing goalie block a higher percentage of your shots, your goalie sucks more, but the defenders never learn a thing (on either side). The new version is supposed to pickup on repeated plays or positions and adjust to be ready for that cross-ice pass from the corner that used to be so easy. We can only hope.

The one thing i was horribly disappointed in is that the uniforms will apparently all be last years unis. Unless they are going to completely recreate the models, they are all still wearing the old-style baggy sweaters, not the new fancy tighter-fitting RBK jerseys. What, bringing them out in the Olympics last year and the all-star break this year wasn’t enough time? Even if they try to change the skins to match the new patters, the fit is all wrong. That is actually a pretty big selling point to me, and they are totally missing the boat.

But here’s the thing i’m really waiting to find out: is the PC version crippled again? They are making PS2, P23, Xbox 360, and PC versions of this game. Now, a top-of-the-line PC has more processing power to put to this game than any console, but i understand most modern gaming PC’s lie in the Xbox 360 range of power. Either way – the PC should get the
best features available. I know this probably won’t happen, because EA Sports PC games are always just sloppy ports of the console versions. What is more frustrating on top of that, is that all game review sites that bother to even review the NHL games, always just review the console version! Not even a note of ‘this game is the same on PC’ or ‘the PC versions is actually a Gameboy Color port’. Nothing.

Why? Why must i endure this pain? I would go over to the other PC NHL franchise… but… wait… there isn’t one. Curse you EA! Curse you!!!!!!

(sorry for the long post – i needed to get that one out)

bad movies

In Christy, Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on July 26, 2007 at 8:50 pm

Christy and i signed up for a Blockbuster online account a while back (for now it really is a better deal than Netflix) and have enjoyed being able to watch all sorts of movies we had passed up in theaters but wanted to get around to, etc.

We found out that many of those movies were great – like Mirrormask, Unbreakable, The Prestige, and Good Night and Good Luck (some we ended up buying).

But we’ve also seen a whole lot of real stinkers. Die Another Day, The Last Mimzy, Men in Black II, The Fantastic Four, etc.

I’m beginning to wonder if we should re-think our list and take off movies that we didn’t see because they didn’t look that great, and start going for more movies that we don’t know much about or couldn’t get around to. For instance, Christy and i (yes, her too) have really gotten in to Jackie Chan movies (plus some Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). I think we may explore more movies in those genres, or more artsy films like Mirrormask (City of Lost Children is on the list already).

We’ll also leave on many classics that we haven’t seen (or haven’t seen in a long time) like The Godfather (i’ve seen it, Christy hasn’t) and Terminator, etc. Those will stay on the list.

But i think Firewall, Jurassic Park III, and Daredevil are gonna get taken off. Or at least bumped waaaay down the list. If we see much more junk like we’ve been seeing – i agree with Christy – we’ll go nuts.


While i’m on the topic…does anyone know how to grab an RSS stream of our Blockbuster Online queue? I know Netflix provides such a service, but i can’t find a way to do it with Blockbuster. It’d be fun to post on my sidebar, but i haven’t figured out how.

this scares me

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on July 24, 2007 at 2:34 pm

I loved Batman Begins.
Now, i wasn’t one of those people that hated the earlier Batman movies. Batman and Robin was bad, but the others were at least moderately entertaining. However, i did love the dark-realism treatment of the Dark Knight’s story that Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale brought to life.

But i’m not super excited about the new photos Warner Brothers just released for the next iteration of Batman movies.

The new suit looks good. Not that different. Very cool.

The new bike…not so much…looks goofy.

The shot they released of Heath Ledger as the Joker disturbs me though. As in: i think i’m going to have nightmares tonight. I am sure that’s what they are going for, but this may be over-the-edge-dark if they follow through on what this shot looks like.

I’ll of course wait to see trailers and such to decide if it goes on my list, but as of right now, i’m only about 50/50 on it.

more tv movies

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on July 18, 2007 at 7:20 am

I hope they have fun with this.
Not too much. Doesn’t need to be a parody, but i just hope they don’t go all Miami Vice on it. I didn’t even seen MV, but it just…yeah. I hope they make it more like the Transformers was than like Miami Vice.
I wonder if a MacGuyver or A-Team movie can be far behind? Or GI-Joe?
I know that A-Team (with Mel Gibson as Hannibal) was rumored for a long time, and looks like it might be in production now, though no cast has been announced. GI-Joe has been an off again on again idea for a while. Good times.

Update: Matt pointed out, that no, it is not a Camero. We got over Bumblebee being a Camero instead of a Beetle…so maybe KIT will be a Beetle when the movie actually comes out?

judge a book (by its) cover

In Christy, Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on July 15, 2007 at 8:38 pm

Well, my wife is pretty into Harry Potter. I have to admit i’ve gotten into it a bit too. Some friends let us borrow the movies and i caught up last spring. Then we just went to see the latest movie. Very very good. (My review: Good special effects in the beginning, bad effects in the middle, great effects at the end…the plot roughly follows).

Now i am going to start listening through the unabridged audio books (so i can more intelligently argue some points of debate with my wife) thanks to the Nashville Public Library system, and just pre-ordered the new book for Christy.

I said it’d never happen, but i guess we’re fans.

But now i wish i had ordered Christy’s copy to be shipped from the UK. Apparently they get a better version there. First, their version has the original UK English intact (the US version is re-edited for US kids vocabulary), but mostly, they have a way cooler cover. I’m sorry, there is just no comparison. What’s up with that?

This is the US cover.
(click to enlarge)

I know the US versions have had this same cover style for a while, but it…well…stinks. I just think it looks dumb. It doesn’t match the feel of the stories that they hold inside. Looks more like a dark Dr. Seuss or something. Too melodramatic and stylized without being fun looking. It either needs to be creepy or fun. This fails at both.

These are the UK covers – plural.
(click to enlarge)

In Europe and Asia though, they get two covers: A kids cover, and an ‘adult’ cover. I find both of these a far better option than what we get in the US. The ‘adult’ cover in particular is way cooler, spookier, and generally more mysterious. And yes, it reminds me of cover of the book in The Neverending Story, so that probably helps. The kids version also seems a better fit somehow. Of course, from looking at the UK kids version, this is apparently going to be a cross-over with Stargate.

A quick skim of amazon.co.uk makes it look like they have only been doing the dual-covers for the last two books. Before that, they all followed the kids-cover style, but it was still far better than the US versions. Ok, except the first one. Aside from the different title, that cover does look pretty lame. But i guess at that point it really was more of a kids book.

Oh well. I guess in reality i would like all books to either be a pocket-size paperback or a leather-bound library volume. Can anyone hook me up with one of those yet?

transformers

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on July 5, 2007 at 10:05 am

Time for a summer movie update.

So far i’ve missed one of the movies on my list for this summer, but i’ve seen most of them. I’d also have to say that having seen the trailers, Rush Hour 3 is probably off my “must” list and on to “optional”, while the Simpsons Movie may be on to my “must” list now. Underdog is off the list entirely. So… new list…

Movies i am for sure going to check out:
May 4th – Spiderman 3 (3.5 out of 5)
May 25th – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (4 out of 5)
June 8th – Ocean’s Thirteen (didn’t see)
June 29th – Ratatouille (4.5 out of 5)
July 4th – Transformers (3 out of 5)
July 13th – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
July 27th – The Simpsons Movie
August 17th – Fanboys

Others of note that i am going to wait to rent or borrow:
May 18th – Shrek the 3rd (didn’t see)
June 15th – Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (didn’t see)
June 22nd – Evan Almighty (didn’t see)
June 29th – Live Free or Die Hard (not yet)
August 3rd – The Bourne Ultimatum
August 10th – Rush Hour 3
August 17th – The Invasion



Anyway – now to my review of Transformers.
My expectations were pretty much met for this one, which isn’t necessarily a great thing.

It was Michael Bay. Pure and simple. As my good friend Matt said – he is basically an old-time b-movie action director on a big budget. Lots and lots of ‘spolsions, little character development outside of the one main hero (Sam), and an almost complete disregard for the intelligence of his audience.

At a high level, the plot was actually better than i had hoped. It was mostly believable, reasonably true to the original show, and the different groups all acted according to plausible motivation. Nothing completely random happened and there were no gaping holes.

At a lower level however, the dialogue and minor plot elements were poorly executed. The writing was slightly better than the first Fantastic Four movie, but that isn’t saying much. There was more cussing than needed, though not a ton. But most of it felt very forced, like a middle-schooler on the playground trying to sound tough. Several weak minor plot elements including things like “they are using a signal to hack our network” – as though playing a sound-file really loud near a computer automatically opens up all encryption. Oh – and all government computers are apparently connected to one massive server and are connected through a “hard line”. Lots of little science mis-steps too, like a craft leaving the earth’s atmosphere showing heat and flame bouncing off a shield (which only actually happens when items enter the atmosphere, not leave). But this isn’t an educational documentary, so all that can be overlooked. Barely.

I’d say my main real disappointment and complaint about the movie was the characters. In the TV show the Transformers all had very unique personalities. We got a very very small glimpse of that in the Autobots, but got to see none of that in the Decepticons. Basically the only time any of the Transformers were on screen they were shooting something or fighting, not standing around exchanging witty banter or arguing the way they did in the shows.

My only other complaint would be that there was lots of collateral damage to innocent bystanders that was treated very casually. I’d guess the death toll in the movie to be somewhere in the 5,000 area minimum (though you probably only see about 500 deaths on screen), but the whole time everyone was worried about averting an impending disaster, never acknowledging that tons of people were dead and dying already.

But if you can get passed elements like that – and for a movie like this you’d better – it was actually pretty good. The action sequences were excellent. Very fast paced, but they also slowed down to give a ‘bullet time’ look at the fighting which really showed off the Transformers and their abilities. Plenty of chances to see them actually transform – which i was afraid would be to rare. Lots of military hardware, just shy of being silly – just enough to be really, really cool.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the product placement didn’t get in the way too much. Don’t get me wrong – there is a TON of it. But it was very subtle – kinda. It didn’t get in the way of enjoying it, but everything in this movie had a logo. Besides the whole movie being a Hasbro ad, all the cars/trucks were GM (a change from the mix of VW, Porche, Mack, etc from the originals) but i got over that pretty quickly. Sam’s favorite band is apparently The Strokes, the US military exclusively uses HP computers and Logitech webcams, etc. What was amazing though is after the movie i quizzed my friends…what was the vending machine in the last scene (Mountain Dew) – what was the box that the guy was holding on the sidewalk (X-Box 360), etc. We could all name what we had seen, even though we didn’t notice it at the time. Which is, of course, exactly what they were going for.

As for the movie experience, this was at the ‘other’ old theater in the Rivergate area. All digital picture, etc. Not quite as nice in the lobby and such as where we saw Ratatouille, but it was good enough. Good sound balance, great picture – mostly. There was one part of the movie where there are long sequences of over-exposure – basically most of the screen is bright white. During those scenes, i could see something on the screen. Not sure if it was dirt or what. It was in kind of a pattern of lines, and i almost wonder if it was the speaker or some sort of support behind the screen. I’d be curious to see if anyone else saw that at their theaters too. 90% of movies wouldn’t have made me notice this, but the extended bright-white made it show up. Didn’t ruin it for me though. I have to wonder how that bright white scene would look on film though. Probably a great example of how digital is better – no scratches or dust which i’m sure would show up on a film showing of the same scene.

So…if you like action movies and are looking for a shallow, entertaining movie, it is worth checking out, and unless you have a $10k home theater system, you need to see it in a digital theater. Coming from a guy that has a theater room with digital projector with 8 foot screen – i’d recommend that as a minimum requirement for seeing a movie like this. This movie is big in every possible way.

Overall, good flick. I would not say that this was a remake of the TV show, didn’t feel like it at all. But it was an enjoyable movie.

pixar goodness

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on June 29, 2007 at 7:25 pm

I took a half-day off from work today to go see Ratatouille with Christy. We went to see it at the theater near Rivergate mall. Very nice actually. Well, not very nice, but very good and certainly nicer than most. The only ‘nicer’ theaters i could name would be Green Hills or Opry Mills and those theaters still show most movies in…[shudder]…film. This theaters has already converted to digital, like other smaller theaters. But the overall experience was much better than the one at the Hickory Hollow theater.

Anyway.
To the movie.
(I will do my absolute best to avoid anything like spoilers)

Very good. I have to say i went in somewhat skeptical, yet really excited. This was Pixar, and for those that don’t know, i am a huge Pixar fan. I love their work, their self-awareness, and most of all, the heart and depth that their movies have. They hold my interest as an adult with intelligent story lines, thoughtful characters, and truly funny jokes – not potty humor like some other studios – but real funny situational comedy. In the end though, i am a firm believer that most of the Pixar movies, had they been made with real actors and not animated, would have been in the running for best picture. The stories, characters, and writing are that good. Through all of that though, they are also movies that you can take anyone to see. They are not just PG, they are waaay G. But still very good movies for adults.

The one exception to that however, was The Incredibles. Don’t get me wrong. Fabulous movie. 4.5 out of 5 stars for me. But not the 5+ that the other Pixar movies garner to me. It fell just a little short in both the all-ages category and in the story. Again – don’t get me wrong. I still got choked up at some parts, but it was a little heavy handed. A little obvious and i felt like my emotions were being manipulated. I felt like i was watching a great movie – but i felt like i was watching a movie. Ironically, i think with most of the other Pixar movies, when the emotional climax to the movie comes, i always feel like i am watching real characters interact and cameras are catching real action. It feels so honest. Which is ironic of course considering that The Incredibles is the first movie where it is people on the screen and not talking bugs or toys or fish or whatever.

Because of all of that i went in skeptical. Ratatouille was written and directed by Brad Bird, the same guy that did the Incredibles. He is not one of the Pixar guys to me (John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Joe Ranft, etc). Good writer/director, but his movies feel different than Pixar.

Anyway…

This was a really good movie. I recommend everyone see it. Though I will say that this isn’t a “must see” for theaters. It is not an action movie or anything and unless you can see it in digital, i fear you may not be able to truly appreciate the amazing animation details. That’s really about the only thing that was extremely ‘cinematic’ about this movie. I think that may have been one of the disappointments for me. The movie felt small the vast majority of the time. While this sounds logical given the movies central character is about 6 inches tall, Pixar proved in A Bug’s Life that you can make a movie about miniatures look like an epic. But hey, with the type of story it was, maybe that was on purpose. I just think the movie could have used a little more scale and power. Every time we see the “beauty” of Paris it is through a window. Most of the shots are very tight. Just not a lot of scale to the movie.

The other factor that was a little disappointing to me was that yet again, like the Incredibles, this movie is a very PG movie to me. It got a G rating, but if i had children under the age of 6 or 7, i would have been a little uncomfortable with a couple of scenes. Nothing horrific mind you, and nothing like the Incredibles. But there were two scenes in particular that would take either eye-closing for a little one or some explaining afterwards, or both. Again, one of the things i really love about most Pixar movies is that you can show them to anyone and they will enjoy them. Adults get a lot out of them, but any kids can watch them. They are innocent but not simple. This movie was a little lighter on innocents and a little heavier on simplicity.

Overall though, great movie. I was laughing out loud quite often, especially early in the movie. Very funny. Worth seeing. I will probably see it again in the theater and will definitely own it when it is released on DVD.

Compared against the 5+ of other Pixar’s this fell short of my high expectations, but it was still a solid 4.5 out of 5.

Now…as to the part that i really loved…

The teaser trailer at the beginning of the movie for the next Pixar film, Wall-E. It is coming out just next summer, which i am really excited about. Increased computing power and better and better software mean they are able to crank out Pixar films faster – and the extra budget from them buying out Disney, Disney merging with them Disney buying them out and putting all of Pixar on the board doesn’t hurt either. Best part, is this is a “true” Pixar film. Back to Andrew Stanton.

Without further ado, here’s the trailer for Wall-E.

High Def quicktime version here.

Here is another teaser/ad/viral video that was released with the Ratatouille video game.

That video mentions a website at the end, which really does exist: www.BuyNLarge.com. Check it out. Click on the little red dot at the bottom. This will be a fun site to watch in the coming months.

One last interesting couple of notes about the movie:
1) Pixar has re-rendered the opening title shot of their logo (featuring Luxo Jr, the bouncing desk lamp). The lighting has obviously been redone and it looks great. Again, see it on film and you’ll probably miss this.
2) There is a short at the beginning of the movie. Very funny, though a little strange. Ok, a lot strange. But very funny.

pirate review

In Entertainment, Friends, Movies, Reviews on May 25, 2007 at 7:02 am

This is going to be quick, since i am actually at work today:

[Warning - not bad spoilers, but if you are like me and don't want to know anything about the movie before you see it, you might as well stop reading]

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Very good movie. Not great, but worth seeing in the theater (even a non-digital one).

However, it was much like Spiderman 3, it took a jump to the goofy side several times that is going to make it hard to re-watch.

Overall, i was gratified to find that it lived up to my expectation as a very similar trilogy to the original Star Wars trilogy. First movie is fun, beat the bad guys, could stand alone. Second movie is much much darker, and our scoundrel hero dies/disappears in the end and the rest of the team (young and fragile) is left all alone in the world. Third movie they first have to come of age on their own, go rescue the scoundrel, and the audience has to deal with silliness (Ewoks and split personalities) and there is a major battle at the end.

Of course with Pirates, the ending was a little more complicated and slightly less obvious than Star Wars – and not quite as completely happy, but solid overall.

Last statement is that the writing stayed fantastic. The pace was good, the plot twists did not disappoint, but were not impossible to follow, and the dialog was appropriately simple/complex for each character. Lots of good quotable quotes from Captain Jack and other characters without being too silly (most of the time).


I will also say that i went back on my promise and watched this movie on film (at Opry Mills) but the experience was tolerable. Much better than my previous film experiences. However, my friend (one that i drug with me to see Spiderman 3 in digital) leaned over to me after the movie and cursed me for spoiling him. He had never thought film was bad until he saw a movie in digital. This was a great film showing, the sound was good, but there were still flecks, the light still flickered, and the picture still shifted laterally and in and out of focus. We’ll see where we end up going to see our next movie on the list (Ocean’s 13 is probably next), but i have a feeling it will be digital. No question we’ll see Ratatouille in digital, but my hope is that we wont have to goto the ghetto to see it – Opry Mills was showing Shrek 3 in digital last night (but everything else on film).

digital experience

In Cool Tech, Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on May 6, 2007 at 3:33 pm

Well, i did it.
I drug my friends to a ghetto theater (Hickory 8 in this case) so we could see Spiderman 3 with a digital projector instead of flickering, scratchy, fuzzy, hairy film.

It was wonderful.

Don’t get me wrong, the kids constantly running in and out of the crowded, smallish theater was annoying, and the sound was a little loud and treble-heavy. They also didn’t have anything but candy and popcorn at the concession stand – no hot dogs!. (Normally i never partake of concessions, but we were running late and needed to grab something to tide us over for dinner). But the seats were very nice, large comfortable (soft) seats. Overall i give the theater itself a 6 out of 10 at best.

However, overall it was the best movie experience i’ve had in a long while. The picture was steady, in focus, and sharp. No hair. No scratches. No jitter. I also couldn’t see any pixelation or color gradients the way i can on most digital TV’s (including our basic DLP projector at home, alas). I really want to know what kind of codec and bitrate they use, and what resolution the movie and projector are. It was amazing. I don’t plan on going to a non-digital theater again. Ever.

By the way, the movie itself was pretty good. Not great, but not as bad as the Fantastic Four. Definitely didn’t take itself too seriously, which helped given the overall heavy emotional content of the movie. They did a good job of taking established Spiderman story lines and integrating them in interesting ways. I also very much appreciated the producers who made the trailers not giving away much of the end of the movie. There were one (or two) important characters not in the trailers that made for great effects eye-candy that weren’t shown in the trailer. I don’t want to say too much for those that haven’t seen it, but i applaud the producers for not giving in to the urge to put every cool effects shot in the trailer. Final judgment: not a waste of money, but you’re safe waiting for DVD if you have a decent home theater.

Now i have to preach to everyone else that if it is in digital, it is worth going to the movies again.

(For those that missed my rant about bad theater experiences a while back: check here)

tragic upset

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on February 26, 2007 at 7:54 am

For only the second time, Pixar lost an Oscar they were nominated for. Up until this point, Pixar had won for every Best Animated Picture or Best Animated Short Oscar they had ever been up for, save for the first year the award was given (2001) when Shrek won. All I can figure is they lost for spite. That too many people didn’t want to “give” them the Oscar.

But come on! Happy Feet?!

I would have understood if The Incredibles had lost to Shrek 2. The Incredibles was not as strong as past Pixar films, but… Happy Feet!? I saw all three movies in the category this year. The trailers for Happy Feet looked killer, and all I can figure is voters must have gone off of that and not bothered to actually watch.

The only good parts of the movie fit into the 2 min trailer, and when viewed in context, they were weak. Not to mention, as my wife pointed out, there were live actors in multiple parts of Happy Feet. It was just a bad movie. Not a good musical (one of those modern “mash-up” musicals with pop songs rather than a true musical) and the ending was just bizarre. It had nothing to do with the lead up of the movie. It jumped from a nice coming of age story for the first hour-plus, to a solve-world-peace environmentalist movie in the last 15 minutes. Honestly i think Monster House (the other movie in the category) was a better film – and it was pretty strange too. But at least it was supposed to be.

Cars was a great movie. I think probably the best Pixar since Finding Nemo or A Bug’s Life. How in the world it lost to Happy Feet i don’t know. Oh well.

a night at the movie theater

In Christy, Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on December 24, 2006 at 9:47 pm

Christy and i decided to go see a movie tonight (Christmas eve), courtesy of some free tickets from a bad experience at an earlier movie showing (*see previous post). We chose to see A Night at the Museum. It was great. Just was i was hoping for.

Very fun, fairly shallow, and extremely entertaining. Plenty of slapstick style gags, but not so much as to get tired of them. I also loved seeing Dick Van Dyke, one of my favorite comedic actors of all time, doing his thing again. Ben Stiller was also great throughout. It was smart, touching, but not too sappy. And just generally fun. You’ll smile and giggle through the whole thing, though rarely laugh out loud. But you will almost certainly leave in a much better mood than when you went in (if you can let yourself have the fun).

It was also great because this movie was PG and was justly so (save one fly-by use of the “a**” word). There were some scenes that would be scary for little kids, but on the whole it was a very innocent and entertaining movie that a family really could go see, with some good take-home warm-fuzzy morals to the story too.

Recommended: Highly

us hollywood types

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on November 11, 2006 at 1:48 pm

Christy and i got to goto* a preview screening of The Nativity Story last night in Green Hills.

I have to say, my expectations were pretty non-existent. I hadn’t seen any trailers for the movie, and hadn’t seen any promo material or anything else about it. I just had heard that it was coming out soon. Christy is the entertainment writer (as well as a general editor, etc) for Lifeway.com, so she got invited (with guest) to come see the sneak preview.

My impression afterward was mixed. I’ll go with the good part first, then the bad parts, then the amazing parts…

The movie itself, as a whole was ok. Nothing amazing, but pretty good. The settings, costumes, etc all seemed very authentic (not that i would know if they weren’t, but the point is i believed they were). The story flow was good. They also did a good job of throwing things in that you could buy into to keep the story interesting. This is obviously important given that well over half the audience probably knows this story pretty well in advance. They took a few liberties away from how i understand things ‘really’ happened, but they were obviously for the sake of making it interesting, or appealing to conventional/traditional tellings of the story (3 wise men arriving the night of the birth are the most obvious example).

Two complaints i would have were the dialog in a few spots, and the music.

The dialog overall was good. The movie starts out with Zechariah in the temple mostly speaking Hebrew. After watching The Passion and other such movies, it was kind of disappointing when everyone started speaking English shortly there after. That part i could live with though, and the dialog was good for the most part. The bad part was that it didn’t fit with the Biblical quotes. Everyone would be talking fairly normally – or at least how i would expect ancient Hebrew familes in small villages to talk in a movie – up until they ran into a part where the Bible actually has a verbatim quote of what so-and-so said. In those cases, they jumped right into the King James, then once the quote was done, they’d return to well-written dialog. That got pretty annoying. Luckily, most of this movie is filled-in assumptions, so that didn’t happen very often.

The music was…ok most of the time, but a few times was down right bad. The movie opens with a Christmas carol (I can’t recall which one) being played very epic soundtrack-ish. Then most of the movie stays out of the way. My wife, who’s knowledge of church and choral music far exceeds my own says that most of the music was based on other Christmas music themes, but they were originals were obscure enough, or they were modified enough as to not be destracting. The exception to this was what was supposed to be the tension/stress-filled climax to the movie. I don’t think i’m giving anything away here, but in the event that someone really doesn’t want to know anything about the movie, i’ll hide the text in black – just highlight below to read it….

[begin possible spoiler]
Just as Joseph and Mary are on the outskirts of Bethlehem, Mary suddenly goes into labor (which according to a comment she made earlier, means Jesus was several weeks premature). Joseph goes into the standard father-to-be panic to find her a place to actually have the savior of all mankind. Thus making the whole “there is no room in the inn” thing a practical action sequence. It was a little goofy, but the real problem was this – the music for this sequence was “The Carol of the Bells”, played high-tension style with fast strings in a minor key. My wife had to shush me more than once i was laughing so hard. It turned a decent/good moment in the movie into a comedy sequence.
[end possible spoiler]

Anyway. Overall the movie was good, but here’s what was awesome about it:
I cried.
3 times.

I didn’t cry at Mary (she was decent, but just kinda there). Joseph was great, very well acted and written, but he didn’t get me either. It was the shepherd. He was amazing. His story, as short as it was, and the way he played it, just killed me.

Anyway, that’s my review. They let us go see it early, and i think the idea was that we would tell people about it. So consider yourself told.

* Those of us that learned BASIC in school growing up (for me it was 1st grade) learned that “goto” is a word. Spell check constantly reminds me that it is not, in fact, a word. But that hasn’t stopped me in 20+ years of writing. To this day, i have to go back and put in a space at least 5-10 times every single day at work. Basically every time you see me say “go to” on my blog, i have had to do it there too. This one time, i thought i’d leave it in for old times sake.

trailers

In Entertainment, Movies, Reviews on November 4, 2006 at 11:06 am

As i’ve talked about before, Christy and I often have movie parties at our house. Usually these things are scheduled to start around X:00, but people are usually late, and we never have the turnout we hope for. As a result, we usually end up starting the movies around X:30. This isn’t any big problem, but sometimes it leads to awkward time periods of sitting around. Especially since the people that show up on time are frequently people we know less well, as well as the fact that these parties mix our ‘friend groups’ so people there don’t always know each other.

As a solution to this, i have sometimes played little short movies while we wait. Just funny things that are somehow topically appropriate or whatever. However, i’m starting to run out of things to play (believe it or not). As a solution to that i have recently begun ripping and collecting movie trailers for other movies we own or might watch. It’s really been a lot of fun. It’s really interesting to notice the changes in the way trailers we done through the decades. I’ve done movies from just about every time period and genre, and its interesting to observe the differences. A lot of trailers from the 70′s and 80′s really don’t make me want to see the movie (Back to the Future‘s teaser and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark are particularly poor).

It’s also funny to see how some movies are very mis-represented by their trailers (The Day The Earth Stood Still). Still others tell you nothing about the movie and assume you already know story/pitch from its fabulous run on Broadway, so of course you’ll come see the movie (My Fair Lady and Harvey).

One other interesting problem i have run into though – not all movie studios elect to put the trailers on the DVDs. I’d never really noticed this before. It does make sense that if i own a movie, and don’t need to be sold into seeing it. However, it seems that a simple 2 minutes of footage doesn’t take that long to encode and doesn’t take up much space on the disk. Disney seems particularly bad about this. None of the recent Pixar movies have them (The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, etc), nor does The Pirates of the Caribbean, or the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, even though they all have 2-disc sets. Its seems they’d be dying to find more content to fill the discs with. What Pixar did do is put the a teaser on each disk for the next Pixar movie. So i can get the teaser trailer for Finding Nemo off the Monsters Inc DVD, the one for Incredibles off the Finding Nemo DVD, etc. But no where can i get the true theatrical trailer for any of them. There are many other movies that have elected not to include them. The most surprising of which is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have 12 discs full of content about those movies. TWELVE. And none of them have a single teaser, trailer, or ‘sneak peek’ for the movies themselves.

So, here’s the deal. I need your help. I’ve been able to find trailers online for a lot of the more recent movies. Quicktime‘s site in particular has a great selection of 1080p HD/surroundsound trailers. However, for older movies, and a few specific ones – i can’t find trailers.

So here’s the list. If any of you know where to find downloadable trailers for any of these movies (good quality. low-res fuzzy YouTube videos don’t count) please let me know.

A Bug’s Life
Back to the Future
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
Explorers
Hook
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Monsters Inc
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

And that’s just the short list for now…
Thanks!